Friday, June 22, 2012

Wild driving claims numerous wild (lives)
Tanden Zangmo
A female adult Leopard cat (Felis Bengalensis) was killed on the spot when a speeding motorist crushed her on the expressway opposite to Samazingkha in Thimphu on June 21.  
The dead felid with major injury on its head and the jaws crushed was first spotted by Thimphu divisional forestry staff lying on the expressway when he went jogging early in the morning. He then immediately informed Forest Protection and Surveillance Unit (FPSU) of Department of Forests and Park Services (DoFPS). “When I reached the spot at 6 AM, the cat was already dead,” said Phub Tshering of FPSU.
Based on the wheel tracks of some big vehicle in the accident spot, officials believe that the animal might have been killed by a truck. With the leopard cat just about the size of a domestic cat, officials say that the trucker might have mistaken it for a common household cat. “Bhutanese have this superstition that a cat crossing your way will bring bad omen to commuter,” WCD’s Chief Forestry Officer, Sonam Wangchuk said together with Phub Tshering of FPSU. They believe that in order to avoid the cat crossing the way, the trucker might have killed it.
Forest Officials also added that if not for such intentional killing, it might have been carelessness on the part of man behind the wheel. “With better and wider asphalted road, speeding vehicles often run over the wildlife. This is the major threat in developed countries.” WCD CFO said. He agreed that it is increasingly becoming a trend in Bhutan too.      
It is likely that the cat got killed at night since it is a nocturnal wild animal was probably looking for a comfort zone. “The asphalt road remains much warmer when the temperature in the forests drops. So, the cat was perhaps lying on the warm tarred road.” Otherwise, they say the cat was looking for its prey which consists of small mammals, birds and poultry.     

As per the field guide to the mammals of Bhutan the leopard cat is described as having similarity with the household cat except that it has longer legs. It has spots and marks on the body similar to that of leopards and look like a miniature leopard but it had no rosettes on its coat and instead has soild black spots or patched.

The guide further describes that the cat is nocturnal but occasionally hunts during the daytime. The cat is found to be a solitary except during the mating season.

The normal size of the cat ranges from 35-60 cms while its tail measures 15-30 cms. The normal cat would weigh 3-7 kgs.

Like the common leopard, the leopard cat is one of the most adaptable cats. It occurs in the broad spectrum of habitats from tropical rain forest to temperate broadleaf and coniferous forest as well as shrubs and grasslands. They take shelter in hollows of trees.

The cat shows little aversion to presence of human and often lives close to human settlements. In Bhutan, the cat is found ranging from south till about 3,200 meters above sea level.

As per the guide book, the conservation threats of the cat globally are habitat fragmentation, poaching for its pelt and retaliatory killing by farmers. But in Bhutan, it does not face any major threat and enjoys a relatively undisturbed habitat.

The IUCN status as per the guide is lower risk.        

Meanwhile, a civet (Civettictis Civetta), rare species was also run over by the speeding vehicle on the national highway at Lumitsawa under Punakha dzongkhag on June 11.

According to Kezang Dawa, park Manager of Royal Botanical Park (RBP) Lamperi , this mammal is a nocturnal animal who prey on domestic hens and would have run over by the vehicle while it was wandering into the nearest village in search of food.
“This is a rare species and I have never encountered such animal before.” He said.
The Civet is a purely nocturnal generally solitary animal. Purely terrestrial it is poor at climbing and at digging, and it lives in vacant burrows left by other species. 
Civets are found in a wide range of habitats, but densely wooded areas and forests are preferred.  Civets are almost always found near a good source of water.
According to Park Manager, the civet was also run over on its jaw and which consequently has died after stern injury on its mouth.
Further, CFO of WCD also shared his experience from the Thrumshingla National Park in Bumthang. The east-west highway running through the heart of the park has claimed lives of wild animals in the past too. He reminisce incidences where small mammals and reptiles like Langurs and Snakes have succumbed to the reckless driving.  
The department officials are doing all they could to bring down such cases of wildlife being killed by vehicles. The precautionary messages imparted in the environmental education program are directed to creating public awareness on avoiding suck kills.
On the legislation front, the Forest and Nature Conservation Rules, 2006 is silent on such traffic part. While the affected can either kill or drive away wild animals causing crop depredation, it is restricted to only those not included in the Schedule I. Those listed in the Schedule I, which usually are those wild animals critically endangered and vulnerable to extinction are not permitted to kill at no cost. 
The dead specimen of both the dead wild animals have been surrendered to the Wildlife Conservation Division (WCD) Thimphu who further handed over to Taxidermy centre at Taba where it will be mounted. The mounted specimen will be used for the educational purpose especially to those visiting the centre. 
“This is a big loss from the conservation point of view,” said Sonam Wangchuk. He urges all the people especially those behind the wheel to be little cautious and spare the lives of innocent wildlife.

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